Huacachina travel guide: visiting the only desert oasis in South America
Glad you decided to add Huacachina in your Peru itinerary! Huacachina is a great place to visit and I enjoyed the many times I went there. This Huacachina travel guide will give you different perspectives on how you want to spend your time there. Normally, tourists just swing by for the sand dune boarding experience but you can definitely stay longer if you wish!
Happy new year and enjoy Peru!
Where is Huacachina?
Huacachina is a desert oasis located north of Lima (about 4 hours drive). It is a tiny village in the desert and it is the only desert oasis in South America. It is famous for its dune activities (buggy ride, dune boarding) but other than that, there’s not a lot to do here. Bars and restaurants slowly pop out every time I visit (I go every year) but the little village remains calm and quiet.
How to get to Huacachina
I got to Huacachina with Peru Hop. Huacachina is part of their stop in their full South tour. As far as I know, Peru Hop is the only bus company that will take you to the oasis.
You can also go by public bus from Lima or Cusco but you have to go to Ica first. From Ica, you will need to take a taxi to Huacachina. Cruz del Sur and Oltursa are 2 of the Peruvian bus companies that travel this route. Below is the price estimate for fares:
- Lima – Ica: 35 soles ($10.61 USD), 4h trip
- Paracas – Ica: 20 soles ($6.06 USD), 1h trip
Remember that from Ica, you still need to take another taxi to Huacachina. If you are coming from Paracas and you don’t want to take the bus, Freddi, my trusted driver when I lived in Paracas can take you directly for about 200 – 300 soles. You can call him at +51 981 040 342. Just tell him you know me and you can haggle the price with him. He usually knows me by the name China.”
Where to stay in Huacachina
Huacachina has a lot of hostels in the oasis itself and a few 4-5 star hotel options. I stayed in Wild Rover Hostel Huacachina where a bed in a mixed dormitory costs $9 USD. However, please note that this hostel is a party place. Accommodations may be cheap but get ready for the loud music and party vibe of Wild Rover. If you’re not fit for such place, you can try other accommodations like:
- Banana’s Adventure Hostel: a bed in a 6-bed dormitory starts at $25 USD per person. Private rooms range from $55 – $75 USD.
- Hotel El Huacachinero: a basic double room starts at $60 USD per night for 2 pax, breakfast included.
- Desert Nights Ecocamp: a super cool campsite with pool. Tents for 2 pax starts at $60 USD per night, breakfast included
Airbnb’s are also a thing in Huacachina. I’ve seen a few properties that offer good quality accommodations and they are relatively cheaper than hotels. Get a $40 USD discount on Airbnb when you sign up using my link!
Things to do in Huacachina
People often spend a night or a day in Huacachina because there aren’t a lot of things to do here. However, the main attraction which is sand dune boarding draws tourists from all over the world to include Huacachina in their Peru itinerary.
Sand dune boarding in Huacachina is definitely for everyone. It’s not that difficult and there will be guides to assist you in your sandboarding experience. It is recommended to ride the board face-down but if you are capable of standing up and you feel that it’s safe, then go for it! Our driver told us it’s not allowed to stand up on the boards even if I know how to but in my previous visits to the dunes, we were able to play standing up!
The most exhilarating of them all is the buggy ride, where the buggy driver will take you to steep dunes! It’s like a rollercoaster ride! See this video so you’ll have an idea of what the ride looks like. After that, you will get the chance to see a beautiful sunset overlooking the oasis. Make sure to bring face masks or something to cover your mouth and nose. During the tour, sand was all over my face as I didn’t have any form of cover.
We booked this tour with Peru Hop but we’ve been told that you can book an hour before the tour. Just look for some tour agencies in the dunes or in the town of Huacachina.
- Since we booked this tour with Peru Hop, our meeting place was outside Carola del Sur Hostel in Avenida Angela de Perotti. Tour agencies will not pick you up at your hostel/hotel. You need to be at this meeting point 15 minutes before departure.
- There are 2 tours every day: one at 10:00 am and another at 4:30 pm. This tour lasts for 2 hours.
- The price for the 2-hour tour start at $15 USD per person. When joining as a group, you can probably get a private tour for a cheaper price.
Currency, budget, cash, etc
The currency in Peru is called Peruvian nuevo sol (PEN). $1 USD = 3.32 PEN. To understand this conversion, I’m going to give you an idea about some basic prices:
- Basic lunchtime menu (including a drink) in the business district: $2.48 USD
- Combo meal in fast food restaurant: $4.08 USD
- 1 beer in neighborhood pub (500ml or 1pt.): $5 – $7 USD
- Cappuccino in a specialty coffee shop: $5 USD
- 1 package of Marlboro cigarettes: $6 USD
Money exchange in Huacachina
As I mentioned in the beginning of this Huacachina travel guide post, Huacachina is a small town and there aren’t a lot of services available in the area. If you want to exchange money, you will have to go to Ica (take a taxi from Huacachina) and do it there. This is a slightly bigger city and has shopping malls where you can find money exchange houses. There is also a Western Union in Ica, with rates that are slightly better than the others.
If you don’t have time to go to Ica, you can try exchanging with hotels and restaurants but they will surely give you a lower rate. However, think about your transport expenses to Ica and back to see if it’s worth it.
The only ATM machine I saw when I was in Huacachina was in Carola Lodge. It charged me $5 USD per withdrawal but this really depends on your bank. If you want more choices for ATM machines, you can go to the city of Ica.
Note that fake banknotes are very common in Peru (even in banks!) so make sure to always double-check!
About 95% of establishments in Huacachina accept credit card payments with no extra charge. Visa is widely accepted than Mastercard but most of them cater to both. Bring cash to avoid hassle! Remember that Huacachina is a small town so expect it to be not fully developed yet.
When to visit Huacachina
My last visit to Huacachina was in the last week of November 2019 and I found it really cold during the night. Huacachina has a desert climate and is 412m above sea level. Rain is not common in Huacachina – it barely rains during the year. March is considered the warmest month where temperatures go up to 24 degrees celsius. In Peruvian desert standards, this is quite hot. July is the coldest month with temperatures averaging 15 degrees celsius. For most Westerners, this is not too cold but for me who’s used to living in a tropical country, I used jackets as soon as the sun sets!
What's next after Huacachina?
When riding with Peru Hop, there is a usual route and ours was the full south escapade (towards Cusco). If you are not going all the way to Cusco and prefer nearby sites in the area, here are some places you can visit after Huacachina:
- Nazca. About 30 minutes from Huacachina is the city of Nazca where the famous Nazca lines can be found. Most people pass by here but if you want to see the Nazca lines via helicopter, stay the night!
- Paracas. Just an hour from Huacachina lay Paracas – an equally beautiful dessert town 4 hours from Lima. There are many things to do in Paracas including the Ballestas Islands and the Paracas National Reserve. A night or two is worth staying in Paracas!
- Lima. The capital city of Peru is about 5 hours away from Huacachina by bus. Remember that all busses are taken in the city of Ica, about 15 minutes from Huacachina.
- Arequipa. This is quite far but transportation is pretty easy from Ica to Arequipa. This 17-hour bus is tedious but Arequipa is beautiful — you’ll definitely love it! Riding with Peru Hop is easier as they can pick you up at your hostel in Huacachina and drop you at your hostel in Arequipa.